Some friendships are like hitchhiking. You’re desperate for someone to take you where you need to go—the final destination being some sort of emotional satisfaction—and when you get there, you say goodbye. College is a prime breeding ground for these types of relationships: New people arrive with the change of classes and dorms, providing temporary companionship until schedules and living situations shift again. But that doesn’t mean these friendships aren’t valuable. Sophie Yanow discovers this in The Contradictions (Drawn & Quarterly), a fictionalized memoir recounting the cartoonist’s experience hitchhiking with Zena, a shoplifting vegan anarchist she meets while studying abroad in Paris.
Sophie and Zena’s first meeting immediately taps into that hitchhiking energy, with Sophie chasing down Zena on the street after spotting her riding a fixed-gear bicycle. Fixed-gear bike means bike geek—which means potential punk, which means potential queer. Zena doesn’t help Sophie connect with the local queer community, but she does introduce her to more radical ways of thinking and living, pushing Sophie out of her comfort zone while opening her eyes to aspects of her privileged reality she didn’t recognize before. The biggest realization is the scope of the debt Sophie and her parents take on to send her to school, which compels Sophie to change her entire mindset about capitalism, higher education, and the fine art she’s studying. She starts to see the contradictions all around her—like an education system that wants students to be critical of the world, but leaves them in so much debt that they have no option but to become cogs in the machine.
Drawn in a black-and-white ligne claire style and primarily laid out on a six-panel grid, The Contradictions’ understated visuals sell the austerity of Sophie’s study abroad experience, which loses its wonder when Sophie understands the personal cost. Some of the most powerful sequences feature Yanow on the phone with her mother, conversations that showcase the cartoonist’s subtle and rich character acting. There’s some very impressive body language throughout The Contradictions, and by abstracting the forms just a bit, Yanow creates geometric shapes that evoke different moods and relationship dynamics.
Yanow isn’t particularly interested in differentiating these foreign cities, instead emphasizing the monotony and repetition of the hitchhiking process, especially when it’s with someone who isn’t particularly interested in sightseeing. Early on, Sophie is concerned about appearing too much like a tourist, and via Zena and the hitchhiking plan, she gets the worst of both worlds—reinforcing her otherness through meetings with strangers while robbing herself of the unique experiences each city offers. It’s not a friendship that gives her what she truly wants, but during her ride with Zena, Sophie learns more about herself: what she’s capable of, and what she desires in a companion.